Does the "Cut by Coachella" Diet Actually Work? I Tried It to Find Out

Of course, no diet plan works unless accompanied by proper exercise
Of course, no diet plan works unless accompanied by proper exercise
Photo by Christopher Victorio

Like the persistent stereotype that everybody in L.A. is whippet-thin and Kardashian-beautiful, the notion that Coachella has become a fashionable playground where glamazon BFFs like Gigi and Kendall frolic is not entirely accurate. There are far more of us than them.

However, you wouldn’t know that from the annual deluge of photo galleries (and yes, we're guilty of this, too) spotlighting that genetically blessed 1 percent. Thus a very intimidating myth has been propagated, and with it, a lot of pressure not only to find the perfect triangle bikini top and cutoffs but also to pair them with a Pilates-toned, raw food–fed (starved?) tummy.

That’s where the Coachella diet comes in.

Read: More Coachella 2016 coverage

Two years ago, Cristina Peerenboom and Kirsten Potenza, the boss businesswomen behind Pound, a workout that’s centered around drumming, created a 30-day plan called “Cut by Coachella.” Blogs jumped on it because yeah, the idea of whittling your body down for a music festival is just so … uncool. Still, it obviously works. I decided to give it a try.

OK, yes, I wanted to rock abs in a crop top for once in my life.

The contents of my "Pound Box"EXPAND
The contents of my "Pound Box"
Rebecca Haithcoat

Week 1
Weight: 123
I open the box Pound has sent me to find a pair of drumsticks, six DVDs of the girls leading various workouts, a booklet describing the diet and a “fitness journal.” Peerenboom and Potenza are careful to focus on how you feel instead of how you look, which is healthy but hey, we know why I’m here. I’m immediately proud when I learn that I’ve been drinking even more ounces of water per day than they recommend. I’m such an overachiever.

The bad news is that’s about all I’m doing right. They advise eating seven meals a day, starting with a “boost” (for example, apple cider vinegar with freshly squeezed pineapple juice you drink as a shot) or just a green apple within 20 minutes of waking up. Since simply thinking about food in the morning is enough to make me nauseous, this is going to be a challenge.

Other morning recs that suck are eggs (the smell, the texture … I’m gagging) and almond milk in my coffee. My blue packets of fake sugar and sugar-free vanilla Coffeemate do not make the Pound shopping list. Generally, the exercise part seems fun because, let’s be honest, drummers are the hottest. But the diet part seems pretty complicated, a little drastic and a lot joyless to someone who is not a hippie (me) — lots of kefir, chia seeds, kale, brown rice, avocado toast. During the first week, I’m supposed to cut out coffee, alcohol and even sugar-free gum. The saddest recipe I see is for a key lime pie parfait made with Greek yogurt and no graham crackers.

On the plus side, it’s not an extreme diet like the one Brian, a 30-something creative director, uses. Stories have been written about the lengths women go to in order to look good for Coachella (this is the most recent and most ridiculous), so I wanted to find out what the shirtless bros do. Turns out it’s Spartan, but it’s also nice and simple.

“Usually I just go through an Atkins-like ‘cleanse’ so when I get there and do who knows how many drugs and alcohol, I don't bloat up for pictures,” he writes over email. “I don't drink for a week, stick to a low-sodium regimen of chicken, broccoli, hummus and water (no soda). Also, I run in the morning plus pushups and crunches, every day, for about a week or 10 days and lose about five pounds before the festival.”

Ugh. I wish I were doing that.

The Pound workout. Looks awesome, right? I wish the dieting part were as much fun.EXPAND
The Pound workout. Looks awesome, right? I wish the dieting part were as much fun.
Courtesy of Pound

Week 2
Weight: 121
I’m shocked to see that I lost weight, considering I could not give up my coffee or my gum. I also can’t quit real milk and carbs. I’ve lived long enough to know if I don’t just eat a damn Oreo, I’ll tear through every single mf’ing food item in the house trying to satisfy the craving for an Oreo.

I am following other parts of the plan, though, like working out and getting tons of sleep (I have the habits of a toddler and require nine hours per night). I also love making smoothies for breakfast with yogurt and frozen berries. I add ice and eat them like a slurpee because I’m a fat kid at heart. I’m also killing it at drinking water since I fill up a 7-Eleven 32 oz. Big Gulp about three or four times per day. I’m definitely taking liberties with the meals, but surely roasted salmon or peppers stuffed with ground turkey are OK.

The most startling realization I’m having is how expensive it is to eat healthily. Plenty of studies have been done on the “food inequality” problem, and I suddenly see why. Organic food is pricey. Fish is a great source of lean protein, but a pound of salmon — which feeds two people with no leftovers — costs almost $20. I could eat out more cheaply. And at least then I wouldn’t have to clean up.

One of my Slurpee-style smoothiesEXPAND
One of my Slurpee-style smoothies
Rebecca Haithcoat

Week 3
Weight: 120 ½
Like many Americans, my relationship with food can be summed up as, “It’s complicated.”

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During my sophomore year of high school, I fell deeply, dumbly in love with anorexia and shrank well under 100 pounds. I recovered as much as you can when the thing you’re addicted to is also a requirement to live, but in the years since, I’ve flirted with disordered eating.

But a couple years ago, a miraculous thing happened. I began to eat as I did when I was a kid — only when I was hungry and exactly what I wanted, without keeping a constant mental tally of how many calories I’d consumed. I left food on my plate. I skipped the gym for multiple days. I bought a Twix bar without shame and ate the whole thing. I even cut out my daily habit of, like, seven Diet Mountain Dews a day and switched to water. As a result of finally, blessedly not giving a shit, I lost about 10 pounds and have maintained it without any serious effort.

Now, though, I’m spiraling back into my old obsessive habits. I worked too hard not to care, and three weeks into this plan, I care again. Overthinking what I eat doesn’t work for me. I was eating well before I started this diet, lots of protein and vegetables and fruit, but if I want a treat, I go for it. Maybe sweet potato waffles or apple slices sprinkled with cinnamon, two of the suggested snacks in the diet booklet, are a treat for some people, but nah. I need to face plant into a vat of cotton candy.

I sort of love not drinking, but I’ve found it’s harder not drinking than not eating crap when I’m out with friends. They understand being on a diet, but no one gets why you aren’t drinking. Pretty much every social thing I do revolves around drinking, and people are just baffled when I’m not. I can’t count how many times I heard, “Why aren’t you drinking?”

The only thing that lets me avoid scrutiny is sneaking up to the bar and asking for a rocks glass with water and a lime. Looks like a vodka cocktail.

Week 4
Weight: 120
I’ve never been more relieved to break a diet, including the two master cleanses I’ve done. Being on a diet is a full-time job. No wonder Naomi Wolf was skeptical — diets really do keep women so busy that we don’t have time or energy to worry about anything else.

Of course, this diet did get easier as the month progressed and I got more familiar with the recipes and ingredients, but eating seven times a day doesn’t feel natural to me. Plus, doing so is not super convenient when you’re a freelancer who is out running around most days of the week.

It’s also hard not to imagine how much easier this would’ve been if I were rich. I could afford all-organic stuff. I could hire someone to shop and cook and rustle up a halibut crudo for a midday snack.

But the main issue with being on a diet is that all I thought about was food, and that’s the exact habit I broke free of two years ago. When you obsess over food, it can only go two ways: You restrict or you binge. Neither is healthy.

So I’m going to stop thinking about food now. I’ll keep the fruit smoothies and massive quantities of water and I’ll go alcohol-free more nights than not, but I’ll also eat a sleeve of powdered donuts when I want to. I feel great, really great, about myself for the first time in years, and this diet convinced me that you just don’t fuck with that. It’s too preciously acquired.

Oh, and even though I only lost three pounds (LOL), I actually did achieve my goal: Yesterday morning I took an “after” photo and compared it to my “before,” and there they were, baby abs coming through for Coachella.

Too bad I can’t find that crop top.


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